Wyoming, feds continue wolf talks

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Wyoming may be making progress toward
convincing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that wolves should be
classified as unprotected predators in most of the state, Gov. Matt
Mead said Tuesday.

Mead met last week with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in
Cheyenne to discuss wolf management. Since then, state and federal
officials have continued to discuss how to end years of wrangling
between the state and federal governments over how to end federal
protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Mead said his
office continues to negotiate with the federal government on the
wolf issue, including the number of wolves Wyoming should be
required to maintain.

“Many well-intentioned people for many years have worked on this
problem, and we’ve not made any progress. And I’m trying to make
progress,” Mead said. “But on the other hand, I don’t want to hold
out false hope. I mean, as I’ve said, maybe there’s only a
3-percent chance we’ll get anything done. But even if that’s the
only chance, I want to continue to try, at least for now.”

Wyoming’s wolf management plan, spelled out in state law, calls
for wolves to be managed as trophy game animals in the northwestern
corner of the state. It would classify them as predators that could
be shot on sight everywhere else.

Mead said he believes his office has made some progress recently
on getting the Fish and Wildlife Service to accept having wolves
classified as predators in most of the state. He said that a final
agreement on the point could depend on several other factors.

Since their reintroduction in Yellowstone and other areas in the
mid-1990s, the wolf population in the Northern Rockies has
rebounded up to more than 1,600 animals, federal officials say.
While the federal government originally said it planned to have
only 150 wolves in Wyoming, the number now stands at roughly
340.

Salazar said last week in Cheyenne that he couldn’t say whether
the federal government ultimately could accept any Wyoming plan
that continues to rank wolves both as protected trophy game animals
and unprotected predators depending on their location.

Chris Tollefson, spokesman for the Interior Department in
Washington, said Tuesday that while the talks with Wyoming are
ongoing, the department didn’t have anything to report about
progress.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a few years ago said it would
accept Wyoming’s management plan, but the federal agency reversed
itself after a federal judge criticized the plan. Meanwhile,
failure to end federal protection for wolves in Wyoming has
hampered efforts to delist wolves in Idaho and Montana in recent
years.

The Obama administration this month announced a legal settlement
with environmental groups that could end federal management of
wolves in Idaho and Montana. The judge presiding over the case
hasn’t announced yet whether he will accept the settlement and a
handful of plaintiff environmental groups have refused to
settle.

Mead said that if he ultimately can reach an agreement with
Salazar over wolf management in Wyoming, he would want Congress to
sign off on it to put an end to litigation over wolf
protection.

“The history on this has shown that people are very litigious
and have strong feelings about it both ways,” Mead said. “What we
want to do is move us forward and get us out from under these law
suits. Get us to a plan where Wyoming could manage the
wolves.”

Mead said the state would have a strong interest in maintaining
whatever minimum wolf population the deal would call for it to
maintain so the animals don’t revert to federal control.

Mead said he doesn’t believe environmental groups should
perceive that a proposal to have Congress specify that no more
lawsuits would be allowed over wolf management would be an attack
on the Endangered Species Act.

“I can’t speak for how the environmental groups will view it,
but when the secretary himself says that there’s no question that
the wolves are fully recovered and ought to be delisted, I think
that is exactly right,” Mead said.

 

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